Lizard and Kitchen by Banana Yoshimoto
The Lizard is a collection of short stories, which I picked up similarly to ‘The Firm’ at Lady Elliot during a storm. I don’t read enough short stories and I also don’t read poetry, poetry even less than short stories. I need to rectify that. I enjoyed reading this collection and the one that stood out was ‘Helix’ and the familiarity it brought as I quickly picked the similarities to ‘Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind’. I checked the writers of the movie and Banana Yoshimoto is not one of them so it is just one big coincidence.
‘The Kitchen’ is the story of a young woman losing her grandmother and finding comfort in unexpected places. As her life changes, there is one source of continuous peace and that is the kitchen. I really liked this aspect of the book. The idea that either with happiness or sorrow, there is one constant place of peace is beautiful. And when that place is the kitchen it brings back many memories. My grandmother was a brilliant cook and I remember so many things about her around the kitchen. Even the way I used to help her wash dishes is still at times very familiar. My mom is a good cook and now Chris is a good cook so I surround myself with people who love food and find it as an excuse to bring joy and happiness to their lives and mine.
The Firm by John Grisham
We were on Lady Elliot Island, when Oswald, a cyclone has decided to accompany us for about half of our trip. I lived in Manchester, and I have never seen so much rain. As a result we had some extra time on our hands and I picked this book from the little library they have for guests.
A recent Harvard graduate sets off his career in a law firm that seems as generous as Santa Claus in front of a box of cookies. I got into it towards the end, but I didn’t love it. I guess the tone set in the beginning was a bit too smug, and the misogyny of some characters was a bit too much to create a connection. I always had the image of Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner as the characters in ‘The War of the Roses’.
Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
I briefly heard of the book, but nothing specific and I started reading it with a strong sense that it was a love story. What else would you guess from a title like that.
In a very small nutshell, the main character, Humbert Humbert has an obsession for ‘nymphets’, a profound addiction to a very specific age group, girls around 12 – 15. When he was about that age, his first love and the discovery of the beautiful pure body of Annabel, traps him for the rest of his life. His attempts at a normal life fail each time more spectacularly. Through a sequence of ‘favourable’ events, Lolita becomes his partner in a journey with an American suburban background to hide in.
While I followed them around, I was a witness to the mind and soul of the character, exposed as raw as could be. There was an interesting struggle as a reader to surpass the lure of obvious judgement that came with the theme. It is really very open and obvious the knowledge that what happens is disturbing, the main character makes it easy and points it out for you. But these moments of lucid honesty are not ingredients for a path to redemption and although he tried to control his unhealthy obsession, both at home and medically, he fails miserably. We tend to classify people in very simple boxes, especially when it comes to criminal behaviour. So it is quite unsettling to read a book which shows you how complex that box is.
By the end of the lecture, I was exhausted to witness these lives. At the beginning of the journey he teaches you how to say Lolita, and as you say it out loud you feel there was a great love there. The poetry found in that love, as obsessive and hurtful as it was, made me stay with him from one motel to another until the whole sordid story culminated and ended.
The Songlines by Bruce Chatwin
This was an excellent book to start the New Year. It was a random choice from the pile of books we found while cleaning up Chris’ old room. The author Bruce Chatwin led an interesting life and ‘Songlines’ is a window into his travels through Australia. It is also part of his continuous research into the nomadic nature of humans.
The first reason I loved reading it, comes from my introduction to the history of Aboriginal beliefs, specifically about creation. A beautiful account about the songlines, the invisible lines, contouring the surface of Australia and defining the existence of everything. The notion that music has a primordial role in creation, is a new and very exciting concept for me. This theory is not unique to Australia and there seems to be more research suggesting that our primary communication might have been more melodic than anything. Instinctively it makes sense if I think about the inspiration that would have come from nature.
During his travels, the author collects an impressive catalogue of moments, and people. Although very diverse, one commonality to most of the characters is the oscillation between deep sensibilities and bleak realities. I perceived an internal tug of war between their inherit connection to earth, nature and the exposure to a new lifestyle.
The book also had an impressive collection of quotes, and a compilation of paragraphs from researchers, writers, poets, and folk writings about our nomadic nature. The timing of this lecture is perfect. Chris and I have been moving around for the past six months and during this time there have been many times when I thought about settling down. While the majority of external opinions are that we need to stay put in one place, here comes a book to tell me that we are meant to move! And historically more violence and more problems are usually present in settlements. So many things clicked in my head and put my heart at ease. I was getting anxious at my incapacity to picture myself in the same spot for the rest of my life. My need of having a little corner where I can play however I want in contrast to my inability to feel that one particular place would bring me a feeling of complete contentment, was creating a state of confusion. Well reading this book, which I for sure will carry with me now, helped me understand that this is normal. It is natural for me to feel the need to settle for a bit, and then feel the need to move. And looking back on my life so far, I see that is the pattern I have developed automatically. Each move has been long enough to be significant and to bring changes into my life that helped me feel more at peace with myself. I hope I listen to my inner need to either settle or move around as my life continues to unfold.
One quote from the collection: “ It is good to collect things, but it is better to go on walks” Anatole France.
Man Alone by John Mulgan
I bought this book in Scorpio Books in Christchurch. The story recounts the life of Johnson, an English soldier in post World War I society in New Zealand. Each new job he takes coincides with changes in society and reflects the hardships of the time. What started with the promise of an easy lifestyle where work, a wage and room are always available, ends up a harsh and unpredictable lifestyle.
The description on the back of the book says the author sees the “New Zealand society as detached and unsentimental, with the power to reject and alienate”. That was the feel and tone I gathered from the lecture and maybe that was why I was not too connected to the story except the excitement of recognizing some of the places.
Painter of Silence by Georgina Harding
Chris’ auntie lent me this book during our visit in Leura. It was here I smelt the first time the amazing flowers of a lemon tree. I am in love and I really hope I get a chance to plant and have a lemon tree one day. We have already gifted Chris’ mom and dad one and maybe by the time we visit next time it will be in full bloom.
The book is set in Romania around the 1950s. I don’t think I ever read a book set in Romania and written by a non-Romanian author. There is of course ‘Dracula’ by Bram Stoker but I didn’t finish it so it doesn’t count.
There are three historical periods setting up the context for the characters: pre-war, the war and the beginning of the communist era. These three coincide with various stages in the lives of Tinu and Safta. Safta is the daughter of the well off family Valeanu, while Tinu is the deaf-mute son of one of the servants in the house. Their childhood and teenage years unfold in the picturesque landscape of Moldova, in a time that allows them to enjoy a relatively happy childhood. Tinu finds an outlet to express his thoughts and feelings, through drawing and the only one who can understand the subtleties in his work is Safta. This creates a long lasting bond between the two which will influence their lives all the way through.
I have a feeling I want to escape the themes revolving around wars and communism for a while but I am reaching the realization that is not an easy feat. Our history is so full of them that at one point or another a lot of characters are directly affected, or they are one or two generations separated by a war. Although the war completely changed the course of the characters’ lives and added all the dramatic and intense levels expected, there was an underling soft tone to the story that made it bearable.
The beginning of the communist era brought more bleak aspects into play but it also pushed the two characters together again and it all ended in a happy ending. ‘Happy ending’ is an indulgent expression used here but it did feel like it given the premise.
Each one of these books was a rewarding read. The ones in bold are ones that really stood out for me:
- Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World by Haruki Murakami
- Cartea cu bunici, Coordonat de Marius Chivu
- The Travels of a T-Shirt in the Global Economy by Pietra Rivoli
- In Turkey I am beautiful by Brendan Shanahan
- Travels in the Land of Kubilai Khan by Marco Polo
- Silly Novels by Lady Novelists by George Eliot
- Free Will – A Very Short Introduction by Thomas Pink
- La colmena by Camilo José Cela
- Purificare de Sofi Oksanen
- Happiness – A guide to developing life’s most important skill by Matthieu Ricard
- Candidatii la fericire by Ileana Vulpescu
- A New Earth by Eckhart Tolle
- Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan
- Moby-Dick by Herman Melville
- Sing to Me, Dreamer by Shonagh Koea
- Painter of Silence by Georgina Harding
- Man Alone by John Mulgan
Some other fun reading materials for this year included: ‘Fire and Knives’, the collection of 2010 and the ‘The Art and Craft of Coffee: An Enthusiast’s Guide to Selecting, Roasting, and Brewing Exquisite Coffee’ by Kevin Sinnott.
Let 2013 bring more fun readings!
Sing to Me, Dreamer by Shonagh Koea
I bought this book at Ariel Books in Auckland and read it about a month ago, after months of struggling through Moby-Dick.
The book is a blend of vivid happy colours with thick streaks of grey. Margaret, the main character, started her life in New Zealand. After series of events that left little room for happiness, she grabs an offer to change her life and goes to live in India as the lover of a Maharajah. She powers through a devastating storm to get hold of this chance and is rewarded with years of joy and peace. Changes in India and back home force her to face the house where she grew up and a past left behind in a mountain of memories and boxes. She becomes part of a world that looks at her as eccentric, at best. As she cleans her parents’ house in the company of a beautiful elephant she finds a way to understand the past and embrace the future.
The process which takes Margaret from sorting a house and her past with it, soothed me and created an emotional bond to this book. It is probably in the light of changes in my personal life where a great source of love, my grandmother, has left the physical world as I know it. While the love of family and friends is a warm blanket around me, it is good to have books to inspire comfort too.
Moby-Dick by Herman Melville
This is a very short post for a very long book. I struggled to read Moby-Dick. Chris downloaded it on the Kindle and I thought it would be a good idea to read the classic book. It took me around three months to read it, maybe a bit more. I lost track of time. I struggled to understand certain paragraphs which in turn made it hard to understand parts of it. But there were times I was with it, and in those times I liked Queequeg’s storyline and the build up to Captain’s Ahab obsession, combined with his rare moments of clarity. The whale encyclopaedia was fun to read but I can’t say I remember any of it. It feels strange to finish a book and hope the film will help me understand it better.
Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan
A new chapter has started and it also brought a wind of change in my reading habits. Being on the road doesn’t make it easy to transport books so this is my first read on a Kindle. Chris bought it a while back against me kicking up a fuss. But he needed it in order to avoid big bulky professional books and here I am using it now. Not only did I read it on a Kindle but it was also suggested from my Goodreads account. Technology all around.
The book covers the stories of four women, first in their homeland in China and then starting a new life in America. Mahjong gives them a social connection through the Joy Luck Club, an excuse that brings them together in happy moments, and sometimes support. The stories continue beautifully with the lives of their children and the complex relationships between generations. This topic is always relevant and with the added layer of cultural differences as well as generational, it seems so pertinent to globalization. The stories were also source of examples of the intricate ties between mother and daughter and the time it takes time for a young woman to define her independence and reach a better understanding of her mother.
The book was made into a movie so I will keep an eye out to see how it transferred on screen. As for my experience with the Kindle, in the beginning I really missed the feeling of a book but I quickly adapted and enjoyed it. I still feel it can never replace a book and the great feeling of buying one, getting excited over it and the memories of where I get it from. I enjoy the convenience of easy transport but it still didn’t stop me from buying books during our travels in Romania and New Zealand. Oh well …